Trade to dominate Chinese premier’s visit

Lisa MartinAustralian Associated Press

Trade and the testy issue of the South China Sea will be on the agenda when China’s Premier Li Keqiang travels to Australia for official talks with Malcolm Turnbull.

Li Keqiang and wife Madame Cheng Hong will visit Canberra and Sydney from Wednesday until the following Sunday before going on to New Zealand.

The Prime Minister has flagged that the leaders will announce the next stage of the China-Australia free trade deal.

“At our annual leaders' meeting, we will speak frankly and constructively about maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” Mr Turnbull said in a statement.

Cooperation on energy, research, innovation, law enforcement, education, and tourism will also be discussed during their talks.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade boss Frances Adamson said it was the first visit by a Chinese premier in about 11 years.

Mr Li last visited Australia in 2009 as vice premier.

“If you were a fly on that wall (in the leaders' meeting) I suspect one of the deepest impressions you be left with is that China regards Australia as a serious country,” she told the Australian Institute of International Affairs ACT branch annual dinner last week.

Ms Adamson, who is a former ambassador to Beijing, said there was a tendency in Australian public debate to focus on China's importance to the nation.

“I can assure you that it is a two-way relationship,” she said.

“In Beijing, we are a palatable and occasionally sought-after source of government-to-government advice.”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop last week caused a stir in Beijing when she delivered warning that China must embrace democracy to reach its full potential.

“While it is appropriate for different states to discover their own pathway leading toward political reform, history shows that embrace of liberal democratic institutions is the most successful foundation for nations seeking economic prosperity and social stability,” she said in Singapore.

“While non-democracies such as China can thrive when participating in the present system, an essential pillar of our preferred order is democratic community.”

The comments drew the ire of analysts from the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, a think tank connected to the foreign ministry, who described them as arrogant.

Former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr, who now heads up the Australia-China Relations Institute, said China is undergoing a demanding economic transition to lift 850 million people into the middle class by 2030.

“It is bold and risky. China's leaders are unlikely to choose this moment to surrender their authority,” he wrote in an opinion piece for The Australian.

“China will liberalise if its middle class begins to expect it, as in Singapore or South Korea, or a reformist leader sponsors it, as in Taiwan or Myanmar.”